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Frequently Asked Questions

What is Call Center Designer?

Call Center Designer is a tool for call center managers to determine the most efficient staffing for each period of time throughout the workday. In the Day Planner module, the user enters the start and end of the work day, the desired service level, call volumes with average talk and wrap-up time for each time period throughout the day. The optimum agent and inbound line levels are then calculated along with performance predictions on queue times and agent performance.

  In the Staffing module plots number of agents against such performance values as average speed to answer, queue length, agent occupancy and other predicted values. The critical break-off points were service levels become unacceptable can be established for the busy hour, least busy hour or average hour of the workday.

What is SimACD?

SimACD is an add-on module to Call Center Designer. It provides the ability to test and try out different “what if” situations before actually implementing them in the call center. Enter or download expected call volumes with the number of agents and trunks you plan on using for each time period in the workday, along with the abandon and re-try behavior of your callers, and the ring delay and overflow characteristics of your ACD. SimACD then simulates the call arrivals and displays how many calls were queued, overflowed, blocked, received a busy, and how quickly they were answered.

The simulation algorithm corrects the well known defects of Erlang-C type formulas and can be used to refine the output of Call Center Designer by accurately taking into account caller abandonment, re-try, overflow, and correct probability distributions of talk and queue times.

What is AgentTime?

AgentTime is the affordable new agent scheduling solution is designed specifically for small and medium sized call centers. AgentTime creates agent employee schedules from a database of agents, shift definitions, agent availability, agent preferences and agent priorities entered by the call center manager. It uses the agent level requirements from each time period in a call center’s workweek determined by Call Center Designer and SimACD staffing software. It includes, and is tightly integrated with these products.

How Do These Three Products Work Together?

What is the basic difference between Call Center Designer and SimACD?

Call Center Designer tells you the number of agents needed to reach a desired service level, whereas you tell SimACD the number of agents you want to use and you then see what service levels result. Call Center Designer uses statistical methods (Erlang formulas) to calculate optimum staffing levels and call center performance data based on call volumes and services levels that you enter. SimACD uses random number generation techniques to simulate the minute to minute operation of an ACD and presents what will happen with various agent and inbound line combinations. Call Center Designer is used to obtain baseline agent levels, then if needed, SimACD is used to refine these values by accurately taking into account caller abandonment and retrial behavior, ACD overflow, ring delay, and a more accurate modeling of call lengths and queue duration. Both products do financial calculations based on expense and revenue data entered. You will see the profit per call, inbound line and agent costs, etc. You can also determine what agent levels are best for profit as opposed to the service level you provide to callers.

What kinds of call centers use Call Center Designer and SimACD?

Small and medium sized call centers that have between 10 and 75 or so agents. Usually these call centers cannot afford the "full-blown" workforce management systems that sell for $25,000.00 to $200,000.00. They use our products for staffing analysis and scheduling to accurately seat the right number of agents at the right times. Inaccurate staffing is actually more harmful in the smaller the call center as the addition or subtraction of just one or two agents can have dramatic effects on call center productivity. (See our white paper: A Primer on Call Center Staffing).

Many large call centers also use our products for in-depth staffing analysis to supplement their workforce management and scheduling systems. Rather than just accepting the static calculations these systems tell them, they use Call Center Designer and SimACD to "play with the numbers" and do "what-if" analysis to show them how to improve their operations and what the effects of different call patterns and agent arrangements will have on customer service and call center costs.

Our AgentTime scheduler is more flexible than the competition as well. It allows users to change the calculated schedules on the fly to reflect their personal knowledge and situations that cannot be programmed into a scheduling algorithm. It doesn't force the user to accept schedules that they might deem unreasonable.

What is your update policy?

Whenever a new version of our products is released, we notify our installed customers and provide a free update via email or disk if there has been no price change. If a new version entails an increase in the price of our products, current users will get a significant price break.

What kind of technical support do you provide?

Free telephone support is given 8:00am to 5:00pm PST Monday through Friday. Sometimes you may need to leave a message, but you will always get a call back the same day. We can also schedule free over-the-phone training sessions using our demo data files, or with your own call volume and scheduling data.

How do your products compare to such products as Hills Telemanagement Turbo Tables, Blue Pumpkin, IEX Total View, Systems Modeling Arena, and other products?

In 1996, Portage Communications saw the need for inexpensive workforce management and agent planning software for small to medium sized agents groups (10 to 100 agents). Most existing systems cost $50,000.00 and up, and require custom installation, connection to the customer's ACD, and extensive training. Call centers of this size account for most of the recent growth of the call center industry, but most are unable to afford expensive workforce management systems. The scope of a full inbound workforce management system encompasses the functions outlined in the following diagram:

Real time inbound call activity is continuously read off the call center's ACD switch. Over a period of months or years a historical database of past call activity is kept. From this historical call data, forecasting software predicts future call volumes by various methods. This forecasted call data is then used by a staffing algorithm (nearly always an Erlang-C type) to compute the required number of agents needed by time of day to meet a desired service level goal. These agent requirements are then used by a scheduling module with an agent database to create actual employee schedules.

In practice, the staffing function in this diagram is by far the most important. Given that agents account for 60% to 80% of a call center's total expenses, the fundamental questions for starting and maintaining a call center are simply: How many people do I need? What will happen if I have different numbers of people? Call Center Designer and SimACD were designed to focus on the staffing function to answer these questions and additionally to provide call center managers with a variety of predicted performance statistics.

The next most important part is agent scheduling. Once the manager knows how many agents they need, they next want to know which agents to use. Our AgentTime scheduler addresses this function. It is designed to take the staffing requirements from either Call Center Designer or SimACD and create optimal schedules that are easy to refine and modify.

The least important parts, but ironically the cause of most of the expense of current workforce management systems, are the direct connect to the ACD, the maintenance of the historical database of calls, and the forecasting algorithm. Forecasting future call volume from past data is very imprecise, especially in small to medium sized call centers.

In many instances, business activity and inbound call volumes, simply vary too much for past trends to be an accurate gauge of the future. Many managers take the forecast data from these systems and just ignore it, manually entering future volumes that they feel are correct. Our software is designed to allow these managers to take their own estimates of forecast call traffic, or data from their ACD reports, and go directly to analyzing agent requirements and scheduling.

The following table summarizes the positioning of Call Center Designer with some competitors:

Company and Product Description Approximate Pricing
HTL Telemanagement
Hills Turbo Tables
Roughly equivalent to Portage's Call Center Designer. Uses modified Erlang formulas to calculate a single day's staffing. No simulator. No Scheduler. Spreadsheet based. $2600.00
Witness Reasonably priced full-blown workforce management system. Product used by medium and large sized call centers. They bought Blue Pumpkin. $50,000.00 to $250,000.00
IEX Total View Perhaps the most fully featured call center workforce system. Used by large call centers. $30,000.00 to $200,000.00
Systems Modeling
Arena Call Center Edition
A staffing program that uses simulation only. Based on manufacturing simulation software that the company also sells. No Erlang-type modeling provided; simulation does not include all the dynamics of an ACD. No scheduler. $2,500.00
Left Bank Solutions - Monet Call center scheduler geared toward small call centers. Interfaces to a limited number of ACD's. Starts at $20,000.00
Portage Communications AgentTime Scheduler with Call Center Designer and SimACD Complete weekly staffing, simulation and scheduling solutions combining both Erlang formulations and ACD simulation algorithms with an easy-to-use scheduler. Windows application; all calculations are exportable to Excel. Schedules can be printed, put in Excel format, or published in HTML. $3,900.00 to $9,900.00 number of agents to schedule.
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